Adults don’t take girls in pain as seriously as boys

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When assessing how much pain a child is experiencing based on identical reactions to a finger-stick, American adults believe boys feel more than girls, according to a new study.

Researchers attribute this downgrading of girls’ pain and/or upgrading of boys’ pain to culturally ingrained, and scientifically unproven, myths like “boys are more stoic” or “girls are more emotive.”

A diverse sample of American adults watched the same video of a 5-year-old receiving a finger-stick at a pre-kindergarten doctor’s visit, and afterwards researchers asked them to rate how much pain they thought the child was actually experiencing. While all participants watched an identical video of an identical child exhibiting identical behaviors, the group who knew the child as “Samuel” said he was in more pain than the group who knew her as “Samantha.”

This new research backs up studies done on gender stereotyping and biased clinical assessment of pain in adult patient populations but is only the second of its kind to take these questions to the pediatric level.

“We really hope that these findings will lead to further investigation into the potential role of biases in pain assessment and health care more generally,” says Joshua Monrad, second author of the study.

“If the phenomena that we observed in our studies generalize to other contexts, it would have important implications for diagnosis and treatment. Any biases in judgments about pain would be hugely important because they can exacerbate inequitable health care provision.”

The study appears in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. The Yale psychology department funded the study.

Source: Kendall Teare for Yale University